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'Rock,' Fox Cut Emmy Records

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, July 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES

Fox's "Family Guy" made Primetime Emmy history Thursday, becoming the first animated show in nearly a half-century to receive a nomination for best comedy series.

"30 Rock" made history, too, copping a pack-leading 22 nominations -- the most ever in a single year for a comedy series, breaking the record the NBC sitcom set last year when it clocked 17.

And "Weeds" now enters the books as Showtime's first show nominated for best comedy series.

Now CBS has to figure out how to turn the TV academy's love letter to niche programming into a three-hour trophy show that can attract a broadcast-size audience.

Here's CBS's pickle: HBO's "Flight of the Conchords" bagged its first Emmy nomination for best comedy series, but "Two and a Half Men" -- the country's most watched comedy -- got shut out.

Likewise, HBO's "Big Love" and AMC's "Breaking Bad" copped nominations for best drama series. "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy": snubbed.

Those cable shows all averaged between 900,000 and 2 million viewers in their most recent seasons and in their premiere time slots. Meanwhile, the shut-out broadcast series averaged between 15 million and 16 million viewers.

Think Academy Awards -- if all the nominees were little indie flicks.

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Justin Timberlake to the rescue! He's one of this year's most Emmy-nominated individuals -- including two nods for outstanding original music: "Motherlover," performed on "Saturday Night Live," and "I Love Sports" performed at the 2008 ESPY Awards. (Timberlake is also nominated for best guest actor in a comedy for his "SNL" gig.)

In that original-music race, Timberlake's tune will tangle with Hugh Jackman's opening number from the most recent Academy Awards show, and the Stephen Colbert/Elvis Costello duet "Much Worse Things" from "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All," among other tunes.

Wanna bet the best original music tunes competition will become part of this year's Emmycast?

Ditto for best children's program, which includes Miley Cyrus's "Hannah Montana" among the nominees.

That of course would mean tossing other derbies from the televised orgy of trophy dispensing. Bye-bye, movies and miniseries!

Thursday's unveiling of the nominees at the TV academy's North Hollywood HQ was a rude awakening for broadcast networks, which have traditionally taken turns carrying the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony. They'd hoped this year's change in the nominations process, reverting to a popular vote among academy members and adding an additional nominee in some glamour categories, would bring more "popular" shows into the mix.

Critics of the change hoped otherwise.

"It's a nice surprise that the year the Emmys returns to a popular ballot, some of those popular shows like 'Two and a Half Men' were passed over by worthy underdogs," Emmy blogger Tom O'Neil told The TV Column. He may feel otherwise if CBS can't improve on last year's worst-ever Emmy ratings -- 12.3 million viewers -- and broadcasters decide not to continue the tradition. Their contract with the academy is up after next season.

* * *

Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" is only the second cartoon in Emmy history to compete for best comedy. The other was "The Flintstones," which was nominated in 1961, though back then the category was called outstanding program achievement in the field of Humor. "The Simpsons" tried twice to get the TV academy to recognize it with best-comedy nominations and failed both times; producers finally tossed in the towel and returned to competing for best animated series.

Joining "30 Rock," "Family Guy," "Conchords" and "Weeds" in the best-comedy race this year are CBS's "How I Met Your Mother," HBO's "Entourage" and NBC's "The Office."

Just one year ago basic cable broke into the best-drama race for the first time. This year the nominees include not only AMC's "Breaking Bad" but last year's winner, AMC's "Mad Men," and FX's "Damages"; they're joined by HBO's "Big Love," Showtime's "Dexter," ABC's "Lost" and Fox's "House." In this category, the usually sentimental TV academy uncharacteristically cut the swan songs of such shows as "ER," "The Shield," "Boston Legal" and "Battlestar Gallactica."

But it stood firm in its No Fangs position, also declining to nominate for best drama HBO's "True Blood," which had been considered a shoo-in by Emmy navel gazers. "True Blood's" Oscar-winning star, Anna Paquin, also got snubbed in the drama actress contest.

Who got the drama actress nods? Last year's winner, Glenn Close, for "Damages," as well as ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" star Sally Field, NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" lead Mariska Hargitay, TNT's "Saving Grace" star, Holly Hunter, "Mad Men" actress Elisabeth Moss, and TNT's "The Closer" queen, Kyra Sedgwick.

This year's sloughing off of broadcast-TV nominees also includes America Ferrera; the "Ugly Betty" star got pushed aside in the comedy actress competition to make room for Toni Collette, who plays multiple personalities in Showtime's "United States of Tara." She's joined by Fey, Christina Applegate of ABC's defunct "Samantha Who?," Julia Louis-Dreyfus of CBS's "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "Weeds" lead Mary-Louise Parker and a surprise nom for perky-raunchy Sarah Silverman of Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program." That's acting?

On the bright side, this year's Emmy crop is thick with newcomers. Though Silverman is the big surprise, the list also includes CBS's Simon Baker in his first bid for best drama actor for "The Mentalist." He'll compete against last year's winner, Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," Michael C. Hall of "Dexter," Hugh Laurie of "House," Gabriel Byrne of HBO's "In Treatment" and Jon Hamm of "Mad Men."

And CBS's "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons snared his first nomination for best comedy actor, as did "Conchords" star Jemaine Clement. Parsons and Clement will duke it out with perennial winner Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock," "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen, Steve Carell from "The Office" and USA's "Monk" lead, Tony Shalhoub.

Joining Ferrera, "ER" et al. in the On Broadcast and Snubbed Club: Fox drama series "24" and its star, Kiefer Sutherland; the show made a triumphant return to the air after sitting out a season owing to the writers' strike.

Sutherland is, however, being recognized by the academy for his tour de force movie performance last season. He starred, you'll remember, in "24: Redemption." That's a little bagatelle the Fox network put together to tide over fans until the series returned after its prolonged hiatus.

And if, on Emmy night, Sutherland actually succeeds in beating out fellow nominees Ian McKellen (PBS's "King Lear"), Kevin Kline (PBS's "Cyrano de Bergerac"), Brendan Gleeson (HBO's "Into the Storm"), Kevin Bacon (HBO's "Taking Chances"), and Kenneth Branagh (PBS's "Wallander: One Step Behind"), the scream that will tear through the night will be mine. With all due respect, what the heck is Kiefer doing in this company?

Because some sanity prevailed, the academy could not bring itself to nominate "24: Redemption" itself for best TV movie. In fact, broadcast failed in its attempt to regain a presence in this category when its other best hope, CBS's World War II flick "The Courage of Irena Sendler," also got passed over.

But the academy did see fit to nominate Lifetime's "Coco Chanel," in which Barbora Bobulova plays the young French fashion great with a French accent, but Shirley MacLaine plays the older Coco with a flat, mid-Atlantic accent because, MacLaine sniffed at TV critics last summer, she doesn't do accents. Lifetime also landed "Prayers for Bobby" in this race, but it's all HBO from there: "Into the Storm," "Taking Chances" and "Grey Gardens" -- a fact-based drama about two of Jackie Kennedy Onassis's eccentric relatives, played by Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.

PBS's "Little Dorrit" and HBO's "Generation Kill" are the only two miniseries nominated for best of that genre this year because, the academy explained, so few miniseries were submitted for consideration and the academy never nominates more than a third of the submitted projects.

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